Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dear Cathi,

How does a parent know when to keep encouraging a child to do an activity vs. letting the child decide to avoid or “opt out”? Certainly I realize crying and resisting an activity are pretty straightforward and may be telling me there is cause for concern.  However, my 10 year old son, Connor often says “Oh, I don’t want to do that.”  Almost weekly he tells me, “No, I don’t want to go to Tae Kwon Do.”   I kindly remind him that it is good exercise, helps him in school and most of all it is fun!  He does enjoy it once he is in the class.  I surmise there is anxiety in going each week but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. How can I help my son face his fears and persevere?

Awaiting your response,

Concerned Parent


Dear Concerned Parent:

All kids experience worry and anxiety from time to time.  What child looks forward to going to the dentist? Or is eager to take the SOL’s? Most children even experience some level of apprehension when starting a new school, auditioning for the school play or joining a new sports team.  And when they participate in one of these activities despite their initial reluctance, children actively develop both coping skills and self-confidence.

Every time you, as his parent, encourage Connor to face his fears by fulfilling his commitment to Tae Kwon Do, you are acting as his Worry Coach. Whether in words or in actions, you are saying, “Hang in there.  Your concerns will pass.  I know you can do this.” And, with this, Connor is one step closer to freely choosing to go to Tae Kwon Do even without your reassurance.

Don’t get me wrong. Helping children face their fears is not for the faint of heart. Worried feelings may be mild and manifest as reluctance (“I don’t want to go to Tae Kwon Do”) and they may also be overwhelming, constant, and distorted, resulting in absolute avoidance of perceived threats (“I am never going to school again and you can’t make me.)  The mere suggestion of approaching rather than retreating from fears may result in  avid protestations and heaps of tears.

So what’s a parent to do?  The following are a few strategies to help your child face his fears, regardless of their frequency or severity.

Helping Your Child Face Fears

1. Model out loud your own reassuring coping thoughts

Allow your child a window into how you cope by saying out loud what you are feeling.  Verbally walk yourself through your own self-reassurance process.

Try Saying This:  “I am feeling nervous before the party tonight because I’m afraid I won’t know anyone.  It’s not unusual for me to get a bit nervous before parties.  I have to remind myself that I always have a good time once I get there.”

2. Reward and reinforce progress

Develop a simple system of rewards to reinforce progress. Be consistent and reward for a full three weeks before moving on to a new goal.

Try Saying This:  “Each time you get ready for Tae Kwon Do without argument, you get to choose the family dinner that evening”.

3. This too shall pass

Remind your child that everyone gets nervous from time to time and that it always goes away.

Try Saying This:  “Lots of kids have worries like this. Even though it feels really bad right now, it always goes away.”

4. Remain neutral

Listen without judgment, empathize, and calmly let your child know expectations and limits.

Try Saying This:  “You’ve had a long day at school, and I know you are tired. But you’ve made a commitment and must go to each practice as scheduled.”

5. Ask coping questions

Worry is often times accompanied by pessimistic thinking. Asking questions that lead to more realistic thinking helps soothe worried thoughts.

Try Asking These Clarifying Questions:  “How likely is it that what you are worried about will actually happen? Is it “possible” or “likely”? What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Is there anything you can do about it?  If not, what can you do to get your mind off of it?

6. Stick to the present

Kids who worry frequently predict the future inaccurately.  They tend to overestimate the threat and underestimate their ability to cope with the threat, leaving them in a state of anxiety.  Non-anxious kids tend to stick to the present.

Try Saying This:  “Feeling scared that something will happen doesn’t mean it WILL happen.  What part of this can you solve right now?”

7. Work the edges of the envelope

Encourage your child to approach and handle challenging situations one step at a time.  You don’t want to throw your child into the deep end of a swimming pool before he is ready to swim.  Depending on his level of anxiety, sitting by the edge of the pool with his feet dangling over the edge may be the first step for him.  As his comfort level increases and he gains a sense of mastery, work the edges of his unique envelope by adding the next step.

Try Saying This:  “What part of this goal are you ready to take on right now?”

8. Empowerment role play

Role-playing allows children to practice skills before they need to use them in real-life situations.  Your child has the chance to practice behaviors and receive positive feedback from you.  While you role-play, focus on potentially anxiety provoking scenarios and offer solutions and guidance.  This will help him feel more in control and ready to handle what comes his way.

Try Saying This:  “Let’s practice how you might handle joining in at the party?”

Your road as Connor’s parent is paved with lots of love, good intentions and hard work. There are few absolutes. Trust your instincts and continue to allow Connor to experience the success that comes with perseverance.

All the best.



Posted in Dear Cathi, Parenting | Comments off

The school year is coming to a close and with that end comes the opportunity to reflect on all that our children have accomplished. At In Step, many of the groups that formed when school started, are also coming to an end. We have graduations and pizza parties and discuss the accomplishments of our kids and our parents who have worked so hard over the course of many months to make positive changes in their lives. We feel honored to be a part of that and want to share with you some of what our parents are writing to their children in their graduation letters. We hope you find it as inspirational as we do.

“Daddy and I are so proud of you for participating in and graduating from the Stepping Stones program. We know it wasn’t easy for you at first and you wished you could stay home, but as the weeks went by we saw you get more comfortable with the group…we have seen so many positive changes in your behavior and you are handling your anger so much better. You are so much more cooperative and are better at seeing the other person’s point of view. We know you have been trying harder at school and raising your hand more often. You are starting to let people see the real you and we are so happy that everyone is seeing the terrific girl that you are!”

“…you are such a smart boy and now you know how to be much more polite and say “excuse me” and not to interrupt people when they are talking. You are waiting your turn to speak and you are making friends. We are so glad to see that you have learned to tell people how you feel. It is hard to handle when you are upset, but you are doing so well by talking about it. Your dad and I have learned a lot about how to be better parents, too. We are talking about when we feel nervous so you know it is ok to feel that way sometimes, too.”

“…we are happiest with the increase in your self esteem. You seem to know yourself better-your strengths and weaknesses, and have a realistic view of the awesome person that you are. We love to see you walk with your head high and an air of confidence about you.”

“…We know it has been difficult at times to speak openly and honestly in front of the group about your feelings, but we think this has been so good for you. We see a difference in the way you interact at home and at school because you can let people know how you feel. Knowing you are not the only kid with ADHD and dealing with the issues that go along with that has helped our whole family.”

“…someone, just the other day, told me what a nice conversation they had with you and how attentive you were. You’re better at coping with people’s questions and at making eye contact when having a conversation. Of course you still speak your mind and tell it like it is, and that’s OK, but you have improved at accepting and responding to other people’s ideas and suggestions. You’re even better at dealing with your dad and sister!”


While these groups have graduated, we are already forming our summer groups and looking ahead to the fall. Some of the kids who worked with us this year are coming back to work with us again and others are taking the tools we have given them and striking out on their own with the support of their parents, teachers, doctors, counselors and new friends. In Step is proud to have been a part of their success and we hope to continue to be a resource for our families for years to come.


Cathi Cohen


Posted in Events, Group Therapy, Summer Camps | Comments off